O’Neill calls for improvements in patient care, health care

Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill called for improving patient care by eliminating careless medical mistakes and bureaucratic problems in health care Thursday at the University’s Carlson School of Management.

O’Neill, President George W. Bush’s treasury secretary from 2001-02, came to Minneapolis to discuss the Pittsburgh Regional Health Care Initiative – a collaboration of hospitals, physicians, insurers and other Pittsburgh health-care businesses.

Seven percent of patients develop new infections while being hospitalized, said Jim Buckman, co-director of the University’s Juran Center for Leadership in Quality, one of the groups that invited O’Neill.

Buckman called the Pittsburgh initiative revolutionary, but said it comes from a decidedly unrevolutionary group.

“We are the establishment,” Buckman said of the health-care businessmen and CEOs sitting in the Carlson School’s 3M Auditorium. “We are not Mao Zedong’s obvious followers.”

Common respect and dignity are essential for medical staff dealing with patients on a day-to-day basis, O’Neill said. Their contribution must be recognized and appreciated.

However, he said those who commit mistakes, and the systems that allow them, must be held accountable. This goal of perfection can also help cut costs, he said.

“People say we cannot afford to be perfect,” O’Neill said. “But when everything works right, costs go down dramatically.”

Mistakes, such as patients getting new infections while in the hospital, mean that someone in charge of safety has missed something, he said. To treat people and avoid potential liability, health-care providers must steer clear of these “avoidable costs,” he said.

Further accountability and databases for tracking these safety infractions are some of the necessary steps needed to move health care forward, O’Neill said.

He also said he is interested in pursuing these goals with those who have the same genuine concern for quality patient care.

“I prefer to work on the sunny side of the street,” O’Neill said.